Kotaku commenter Jezuz feels that games set in outer space have become too cold and sterile. He shares his idea on how to liven up the airless void in today's Speak-Up on Kotaku.
I have recently become active on EVE Online, which is most certainly not my first foray into space simulators, but it did hit home a point that I have been so close to feeling for all these years: Space in games is dead. There is activity, movement, but it's dead. The story of all space games might as well be that of Terminator with a lack of gravity, as that's how the Universe feels. It's disappointing, as it truly neglects the feeling that space should have. Space is full of life, not just organic, but cosmic. It's a plethora of discovery, of spectacular vistas and anomalies that would blow the mind of any Earth bound human of today. Space stations would be bustling with activity, of different humans of different cultures that no longer are restrained to those of Earth, cultures so vastly different that calling some cultures human would hardly be right at all.
As such, I have a little game proposition for anyone with sufficient time, skill and ambition on their hands, or just a thought to ponder. Make a space simulator not about space itself, but about a human that lives in space. Have it start out with something akin to Mount and Blade. You choose your parents, your childhood, your apprenticeship, where you are from, and where life led you. Your character is customizable, but it's not an RPG. Invisible stats do not dictate your life, your upbringing, culture, and social status do. I will give an example of this
You were born...
On Earth, in the slums beneath one of the many 'Utopias' that form the skyline of the birthplace of man.
On Mars, in a former terraforming colony that your grandparents worked over 150 years ago, as a micro-biotic farmer for a major Earth based colonial company.
In a space station in the Outer Region, a region of lawlessness, far from the range of the colonial companies, but closer than all to a mysterious race of sentient humanoids that provide more questions about the Galaxy than answers.
As a diplomats child, born in a high rise Hospital on Earth in the 'Elite' section, reserved for societies most prestigious newborns, and the most influential parents.
In your childhood...
You spent your time hopping from space station to space station with your parents, whether as a merchant, military personnel or other, your only stable home was your ship.
And so forth.
In the end, these will determine how your game begins, and what advantages you will have right off the bat. Beyond that, everyone else has the same advantage as anyone else within the game: Their wits, their ship, and their wealth.
You start off... at your house, on a planet, with blue skies and ground at your feet. You start off with a basic ship at a star port, a shuttle for that particular planet, and whatever your starting options allowed you for. You can get into your shuttle, and explore your starting planet fully. There is nothing stopping you. If you try to go into space with the shuttle, enjoy being crushed, but hey. To go into space, you have to buy a rocket into an orbiting space station. However, it's not a menu. You drive your shuttle to the launch pad, you find the next departure, and you walk onto the ship, and wait for it to blast you off into space. If you want, you could wait outside for the next rocket launch, and watch it rocket off into space. It's up to you.
When you get to the station, you get off the rocket and are now free to walk where you please. Stations will vary in size depending on traffic, but the first one will be a mecca. Restaurants, clothing stores, weapon shops, ship yards, multiple hangars, even apartments that you can purchase. It all is meant to feel like space is a place people live, not a place that you fly a space ship in, and only fly a space ship in. There are also electronic stores with different devices ranging from pedestrian prices to tablets that cost as much as a small ship. Again, you live here. You can then go down, grab your ship, and take off to the stars. You can fly the galaxy in real time speed, or speed up time, whichever.
As long as gravity is low, you can go down to a planet, land your ship, get out and explore wherever you wish. The scope, it really doesn't matter. It could be our solar system, or our galaxy: The point is, that you live it, that it creates a space game that is about... life, in space. A game that makes you realize that life doesn't just change and turn into something metallic, cold when we move into the stars: We will still be humans, with our own lives, our own questions, our own drive for perfection and purpose in an ever changing and scary galaxy just as we are now.
It would be Mass Effect mixed with the X series, our lives in a foreign landscape, an odyssey of hope, rather than pure industry. Space in games can be a place that makes us ponder the possibilities, and the humanity that comes along with it, while allowing us the freedom of the cold space simulators before it.
I will wrap this up, as I started it. While playing EVE Online, as wonderful as a galaxy as they've made, it is a cold, impersonal experience that can leave you with a pit of sorrow in your heart when you truly get into it. Perhaps the introduction of a body will help this, and perhaps EVE Online is the game that I am begging for here. Regardless, it's just a stepping stone, not just for space games, but games as a whole. In an industry so fascinated with death, perhaps we should take a step back and realize the possibility that life has in gaming.
About Speak-Up on Kotaku: Our readers have a lot to say, and sometimes what they have to say has nothing to do with the stories we run. That's why we have a forum on Kotaku called Speak-Up. That's the place to post anecdotes, photos, game tips and hints, and anything you want to share with Kotaku at large. Every weekday we'll pull one of the best Speak-Up posts we can find and highlight it here.